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Education Committee ‘failing to make grade’

By Lindsay Fergus

Stormont's powerful Education Committee has been handed a damning end of term report — by one of its own members.

And Education Minister Caitriona Ruane did not escape censure either, with many of her strategies dismissed as “rubbish”.

Alliance MLA Trevor Lunn described his frustration at four years of failure during the last Assembly.

“I have sat on the Education Committee for four years along with Basil (McCrea).

He said: “My particular interest would have been to get some progress in almost any area of education because the education system has not really moved forward during those four years.

“Half the committee is at war with the minister and the other half is at war with the first half.”

His party’s education spokesman continued: “On the big issues, ESA (Education Skills Authority) and so on we have not made progress. We have not made any progress on transfer and the structure of the school system and until we start to address the big issues, the smaller issues will not be dealt with.

“While we are fighting and arguing about the bigger issues and getting nowhere, all I can hope is that we are returned in a few weeks’ time with a clearer head and an ambition to co-operate and try to bring some conclusion and order.”

His sentiments were echoed by Basil McCrea, the UUP’s education spokesman, who said: “Let’s get round a table and sort out the issues we can sort out even if there are others that we can’t.”

Both MLAs were particularly scathing of a number of the minister’s strategies.

Mr McCrea said: “I did not think that the minister’s nought to six strategy, which is still out for consultation, was a good strategy and the SEN (Special Education Needs) strategy is also not terribly well developed and it’s still out for consultation.”

Mr Lunn branded the Draft Early Years strategy as “rubbish”.

Both politicians were addressing a conference for nursery and foundation stage teachers being held by the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) at Grosvenor House in Belfast.

Nursery teachers want MLAs to prioritise a change in legislation to place the pre-school year within the foundation stage of the education system.

Michael Newman, president of NAHT (NI) said: “Recognised government-funded research demonstrates that investment in quality teacher led pre-school education has a direct result on the overall levels of future attainment, reduces inequality and positively impacts economic growth.”

Both UUP and Alliance have called for a universal provision of full-time teacher-led nursery provision.

Mr McCrea stated: “Society must recognise that between the ages of nought to six is when we can do the most good providing we have professional, trained leaders.

“We need to reorganise our education provision in order to recognise that fact.

“There’s an issue about funding but given that there’s no extra money I would make the argument to reduce spending on post primary education, particularly sixth form education to ensure that we invest in primary and pre-primary education.”

And Mr Lunn said:”There are huge budgetary problems and the reason the minister is inclined to throw some money at the voluntary sector is because it’s cheaper to do that.

“But those children are not getting the same quality of attention and education as those in the statutory teacher-led sector.”

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